Drifting and striding with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Sunday, March 31, 2019


I like maps and you like maps, of course we do, otherwise we wouldn’t be such good friends.  And if you’re a regular reader with a moderately good memory you may recall this pic of me unfurling a map I bought in Tokyo, showing the whole of Japan:

I suppose it’s a kind of ribbon map, but I’m sure the Japanese have a much better word of their own for it.

And here’s an 1866 ribbon map of the Mississippi that appeared on Atlas Obscura recently, from the David Rumsey Map Collection.  It’s eleven feet long and three inches wide, totally pocket-sized, and its title is Ribbon Map of the Father of The Waters.

Now that I’m temporarily living in Chelsea, in London, every time I walk up to the tube station I pass, and in some cases walk over, this map set in the ground near to Duke of York Square:

If there’s any onsite information explaining the map I’ve yet to find it.  It’s near to the Saatchi Gallery so it might be a work of contemporary art, but I can neither confirm or deny that.

However, digging around online I did find this map on the National Archives website.  

Paper and concrete versions aren’t identical, not least in the variant spellings of Majesty’s and road, but they're close.

The paper map dates from 1830, but according to the National Archives  it shows King’s Road (nobody seems to care either way about the apostrophe) as it was in the early 18thcentury.  Before that, King’s Road, was the road belonging to the King, in this case Charles II, for the use of the royal family, travelling between London and the out of London palaces.  I don't suppose they walked.

1830 was the year it cased to be a private road and became a public highway, but from 1720 or it had been a toll road that the public could use if they paid for the privilege.  So the map is a kind of route finder and a guide to the fare stages.

In vaguely-related matters, a few weeks back I picked up, for a quid, a copy of the Ladybird Book, Understanding Maps.  No mention of ribbon maps, but there is this totally wonderful guide to help you understand gradients:

Friday, March 22, 2019


I was meeting a friend in the big open area inside Tottenham Court Road tube station, which has a big, rather fabulous tiled wall.  The friend was “running late” as they say, which is clearly very different from just “being late,” so I took this photograph of the wall while I waited.  

And then, being the aesthete that I am, I thought obviously it would be better if there were some figures walking in front the wall – to provide a sense of scale, drama, variety of shape, and whatnot. So I took maybe ten pictures none of which turned out to be all that great.  

But as I was snapping, a recorded female voice boomed down from on high, only just audible, which said something along the lines of, “The taking of photographs of children is strictly forbidden in this tube station.”

Now, I can’t swear this was addressed specifically at me. though I don’t doubt that I was being watched and filmed by security cameras, but it seemed an odd thing in any case.  First, there were absolutely no children around, and if there had been I certainly wouldn’t have taken been taking pictures of them.  I don’t much like children.  I used to be one and I was forced to hang out with other children – god, it was awful.

Monday, March 18, 2019


I went to see the exhibition at the Hayward Gallery: diane arbus: in the beginning (which for some reason doesn’t require capitals).   It's photographs she took between 1956 and 1962, and printed by her: Diane Arbus did not conspicuously spend a lot of time perfecting her darkroom skills.  
Taking pictures at the exhibition was forbidden so this is a publicity photo:

I am, like you, a connoisseur of art-speak and was thrilled to read these lines in the mini catalogue:
         ‘Even in her earliest studies of pedestrians, her subjects seem magically, if just momentarily, freed from the flux and turmoil of their surroundings.  The result is a singular look of introspection.  In reacting to Arbus individuals are revealed almost as if they were alone.’

There really aren’t many photographs in the exhibition of what you and I would call pedestrian, though there are one or two:

Do these people have a singular look of introspection?  I dunno.  I’m inclined to  say not.
Do they look as if they’re almost alone? I have no idea because “almost alone” strikes me as a meaningless construction – you’re either alone of you aren’t, you know, like you can’t be almost pregnant.  
         But art-speak aside it’s a pretty good exhibition.

I got home and found myself looking a blog post by Eric Kim about walking and photography.  He says, ‘I’m not a zen monk. I’m a blood thirsty American capitalist who is re-appropriating Japanese culture for my own selfish needs."
          I like that.  He continues, ‘I see street photography and walking as a form of “walking meditation”– the more I walk, the less stress I feel. And the less stress I feel, the less shitty of a person I am to others. And the more I have a reason to live.”
         Sounds like a decent plan to me.  I don’t know if it would have made any sense to Diane Arbus, but I like to think it would. This is a pretty decent picture by Eric Kim:

Thursday, March 14, 2019


I set off to try to see an exhibition of photographs by Paul Thompson, of coastal navigation markers, in a gallery close to Old Street.  This kind of thing:

But when I got there the place was locked up, and peering in through the windows it definitely didn’t look like there was an exhibition of coastal navigation markers inside.

I’d seen these markers from time to time and hadn’t known what they were: they looked like baskets you might light a fire in. though I never saw one that looked like it had had a fire in it recently. I’d also read that Paul Thompson had done a lot of walking while making these photographs, and if I’d got in and if there’d been anybody to talk to, I’d have asked about the walking aspect, but no, there was none of that.

I was disappointed but not devastated, because I knew I was right by Bunhill Fields, the Noncomformist cemetery, burial place of John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe and William Blake.  This is John Bunyan, with pigeon:

I’d been there before and I’d even taken a picture of the Daniel Defoe memorial, and yes I did remember it was an obelisk.

But back then I wasn’t the obelisk obsessive I am today, and now the whole place looks like obelisk central.

I walked around for as long as seemed decent, though you can’t actually walk among the graves, and then I went back to Old Street station.  And here’s a thing – the entrance to the Tube has become vaguely Tokyo-esque.  I mean there’s no Michelin-starred sushi bar, but there are places to eat and drink, places to buy stuff and even a bookshop – Camden Lock Books, which was great, and they had a pile of Merlin Coverley’s Occult London, which I’ve always been meaning to buy, and it was now reduced in price, so I bought a copy and I do hope the author gets some royalties.

Coverley has also been known to write about walking and psychogeography, and in Occult London he (inevitably) quotes Iain Sinclair:

         “The triangle of concentration.  A sense of this and all the other triangulations of the city: Blake, Bunyan, Defoe, the dissenting monuments in Bunhil Fields.  Everything I believe in, everything London can do to you, starts here.”
I had read that before, of course, and it had, and still does, leave me with the big question: where in the world does everything I believe in start? I have been thinking about this for years.  I’m still thinking.

Anyway, here’s Paul Thompson’s website:  https://www.paulthompsonstudio.com

Friday, March 8, 2019


In Private Eye, a few issues back, Pseud’s Corner featured the Turner Prize winning artist, Charlotte Prodger, as follows:
“I walk a lot,” she says. “You’ve got to piss. I piss outside a lot. I like it. Since I made the film, a lot of women have told me they like pissing outdoors. I always like thinking about my body in relationship to landscape in that way. I had been filming it for a while. Me and Cassie [Charlotte’s girlfriend] would be walking together and I’d say, ‘I’m going for a piss,’ and then I’d say, ‘Oh can you film it?’”  
I'm not sure there's anything exactly pseudish about that.  Prodger’s art, she says, deals with queer identity, landscape, language, technology and time, and evidently involves a fair amount of walking.

When I think of female artists, walking and pissing, my mind immediately goes to Helen Chadwick, whom I first discovered in Ambit magazine – she was the cover girl for issue number 81.

But later she became famous and in certain quarters notorious for a series of sculptures called Piss Flowers, made in 1991/2.
Chadwick and her boyfriend David Notarius were on a residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta, Canada, in February 1991.  They went out walking,made mounds of snow and “took turns” pissing into the snow.  It melted of course creating a cavity into which they poured plaster. The whole thing was then cast in bronze and painted white.  The end result looks like this:

Chadwick described the flowers as a "metaphysical conceit for the union of two people expressing themselves bodily".  
As I get older and as my bladder gets weaker, I find that I express myself bodily more and more often, though as yet I haven’t found a way of turning it into art.

Sunday, March 3, 2019


Back in the day when I had a “real” job, I worked near Oxford Circus in London, and I lived for the lunch hour when I could go out walking and explore the neighborhood.  And I was always struck by a building in Welbeck Street, which I knew nothing about, but thought it was just great.  It’s a multistory car park but I felt it could have been almost anything.  Maybe a spy headquarters.   I even took a picture:

Westminster Council has now approved its demolition, and it’ll be replaced by a fancy, ten-story hotel, which I suppose will have a car park of its own.  Demolition of the existing structure presumably won’t be too hard since it's made of prefabricated concrete sections.  Maybe they can even be recycled.

At the time I first admired that Welbeck Street building I’m not sure I’d even heard the word Brutalism, which is how it’s been described by people who object to the demolition, because I suppose Brutalism is now thought as a good thing.  Frankly I think it seems a bit too light and ornate to be truly Brutalist. Can you have Brutalism-lite?  But I’m not going to fight about definitions. Compare and contrast the Welbeck Street car park with the American Cement Building in LA; now being converted into lofts:

Before I lived in London, I was in Sheffield and I often used to walk by this monster in Sheffield, brutal in every way.  

I loved it, but at the time I didn’t even think to question what it was.  I was young and my sense of curiosity hadn’t been fully developed. Now I know it’s an electricity substation – and good luck trying to demolish that thing.

Last week was Concrete Week in the Guardian and Jonathan Watts, among others, has been telling us that concrete is a terrible, terrible thing - which is to say just one more damn thing to worry about.  Watts comes up with some extraordinary, if not fully explained, statistics.  Concrete is apparently responsible for up to 8% per cent of the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide, more than any material after fossil fuels.  Not sure why it’s only “up to” 8 per cent – other sources put it at 5%.  Concrete also uses a lot of water, 10 per cent of the global industrial water usage, which actually doesn’t seem all that much when you read another statistic, that about ten billion tons of concrete are produced and used every year, and currently half of that is in China.
Then again, other sources will tell you that concrete has some has some environmental advantages. Trucks get better mileage on concrete roads than on tarmac, and concrete reflects light rather than absorbing it, which reduces the temperature in major cities by (here it is again)  “up to” 7%.

 I have no dog in this fight.  I’m all for the survival of the planet.  I just like concrete buildings, and car parks, including this one I discovered while wandering between Victoria and  Sloane Square, which is “greener” than some.  

It’s a multistory car park in Rysback Street, in London.  It’s not an especially attractive building, and it’s only borderline Brutalist (if you ask me).   However there’s some water leakage which has created ideal conditions for moss to grow.  Green enough to be getting on with for a (very short) while.